Craig Priest writes….
Almost a week ago after the complete capitulation against Forest Green, I sat at this very desk writing with anger, disappointment and a sense of bewilderment – a week on and I have the same feelings, but this time I can’t aim any of that towards the management or playing staff at Mansfield Town FC, unlike some I could mention!
Seriously though, yesterday despite slipping to a 1-0 defeat, 10 man Mansfield gave everything for David Flitcroft and the fans and yet as we enter the penultimate month of the season, find themselves out of the play-offs struggling to understand just what is going wrong.
Let’s address what the problem yesterday was – the subject most of us loath, simple Maths. Playing 10 vs 11 against the League Leaders was never going to end well – did Mal Benning need to go in as strongly as he did, could he not have stood up and pushed the Accrington man further towards the bye-line? Maybe, but what does it matter, it’s done, it was a red card and we move on.
The frustration comes not in Benning’s error but in the inconsistency of the referee throughout the remainder of the game where Mansfield, to Flitcrofts credit, we’re tactically spot on and resilient.
They held their shape, held a high line and pressed well – the Accrington keeper must take tremendous credit for his part in denying the Stags the reward they so richly deserved with a fine display between the sticks when called upon.
From open play we looked the side at the top of the league, we looked the side with 11 men and most importantly we looked the side most likely to do the damage, alas it was all undone by a simple calculation – one extra man at a set-play was always going to prove the difference, and it did on the hour as the Stanley skipper Seamus Conneely broke the deadlock.
The Stags tried and failed to pull level and some questionable finishing paired with a man less and a sharp keeper was the calculation which left us, wrongly, empty handed. I’ll say this right now, if the Stags come out at Luton with the same intensity, purpose and desire for the cause – the long awaited victory for Flitcroft WILL come, and regardless of what happens between now and the end of this turbulent season, if they match that game by game, I’ll draw a close to this campaign satisfied that in the end, they fought for us and eachother.
On paper it’s not looking good for Flitcroft, after the conclusion of Easter Monday’s match at second placed Luton, he’ll have played 50% of the games that were remaining upon the Posh Scotts amendment, it’s a strong possibility he’ll have won none of those games and as a result he’s rapidly losing the support of the faithful, which as bleak as the outlook is, we can’t allow to happen.
What’s that saying – you can’t always wait for the storm to pass, you have to learn to dance in the rain.
I’m getting tired of talking about Evans but it is on him that we’ve been left up a certain creak with a paddle, as I’ve said time after time – ANY manager who walks into that situation needs time, and that is something we don’t have, because it’s not JUST time for the manager to mould his ideas and allow them to set, it’s time for the players too – for example we have four of five key players within the dressing room who can make an impact given two maybe three games to get settled, Miller, Penney, Thomas, Digby to name a few – but time is not something we have, we have to remember that.
In contrast to Forest Green, tactically Flitcroft got things spot on yesterday before and after the red card – just moments before the goal Johnny Hunt was about to come on and shore things up at left back where CJ had done an OK job, but was starting to come unstuck. Had the goal not happened, I think we’d have been sitting here with three points now.
The game however is gone, it’s over, it’s done and we can’t dwell on it much more as we’ve another huge task ahead and can’t afford to focus on anything bar that. Yes we are out of the play-offs but actually that might be a blessing right now, as those around us are expecting us to come unstuck and as such, no longer see us as threats which releases a little pressure – all we can do now, just ONE point outside of the play-offs with a game in hand, is focus on ourselves and apply ourselves with the same determination we did yesterday.
I’d rather play like that and be hurt at the full time whistle than not turn up and not care like at Forest Green. Nothing is lost yet, the maths says so.
With Krystain Pearce suspended, skipper Zander Diamond was back in the heart of the back four, whilst in midfield Jacob Mellis returned alongside CJ Hamilton replacing the injured Danny Rose and Joel Byrom who was on the bench, alongside two surprise names in Jack Thomas, back from his spell at Tamworth, and Johnny Hunt.
The Stags started brightly with Lee Angol trying to fill the goalscoring boots of Danny Rose, he had a second minute effort tipped over by Aaron Chapman in the Accrington goal. At the other end Kayden Jackson hit the side netting on five minutes as he got in behind the back four, two minutes later Conrad Logan was on hand to save from Scott Brown.
The game then took a turn for the worse on 15 minutes as Mal Benning was dismissed for a late challenge on ex-Stag Billy Kee, the resulting free-kick from Sean McConville well held by Logan as Stags re-reshuffled with Hamilton slotting in at left back, Alex MacDonald and Kane Hemmings consistently switching flanks on the legt and right with Angol as the lone front man.
Logan again denied Jackson on the twenty minute mark, three minutes later at the other end Rhys Bennett nodded wide after a well worked corner routine from MacDonald and the impressive Mellis who were really pulling the strings in the middle.
Bennett was at it again on 33 minutes, again following a set play – this time the Stags defender nodded at Chapman, who tipped over to deny a certain goal. From the resulting corner, Lee Angol hit on the volley but could only send his effort into the dark afternoon sky.
The Stags held the visitors well and reduced them to pop shots from distance which caused little trouble, at the other end White, Hemmings and Angol all had chances to open the scoring, but lady luck refused point blank to show her pearly whites.
Kane Hemmings missed a golden chance on 50 minutes from Hayden White’s cut back before ten minutes later, the numerical advantage paid off as Seamus Connelly peeled away to connect with a Stanley corner.
Ricky Miller then replaced Hemmings to partner Angol up front, the Stags opting for a three man midfield with MacDonald moving more central alongside Atkinson and the creative Mellis, the loanee striker nearly made the perfect introduction as he romped towards the by-line on 73 minutes, his cut back scrambled away by a desperate Accrington defence.
Five minutes later Hamilton fed Angol but he couldn’t open up his body quick enough to let fly, with five minutes remaining Conrad Logan was on hand to give the Stags a glimmer of hope as he denied Jackson one v one – time, as is the case at the minute, was against the Stags would this time around failed to get a foothold back into the game.
FULL TIME: Stags 0-1 Accrington Stanley
Hayden White – Zander Diamond © - Rhys Bennett – Mal Benning [Sent Off 13]
Alex MacDonald – Will Atkinson – Jacob Mellis – CJ Hamilton
Kane Hemmings (Ricky Miller 66) – Lee Angol
Unused Substitutes: Bobby Oljenik, Paul Digby, Paul Anderson, Johnny Hunt, Jack Thomas, Joel Byrom
Referee: Andy Haines Assistants: Steven Rushton, Wade Smith Fourth Official Joe Clark
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